23 tips to crush $15,000 in student loan debt (+interest) in seven months

Student loan crush

Student loans. A heavy financial burden for many that make true financial freedom feel impossible. Even with consistently paying $218.70 a month I never felt my $21,000 student loan balance got any smaller. So I made the difficult decision to leave San Francisco in 2015 and work on becoming debt free.

It’s been a challenging two years and I wanted to give up many times. But as of April 28th, 2017 I’m living debt free. To help others I’ve assembled 23 tips I used to crush $15,000 in student loan debt (+interest) in seven months. Read below to see how I did it.

BEFORE YOU START

1. Know your estimated payoff date and find out how to shorten it

I did the math and if I didn’t start paying more than $218.70 a month I’d be in debt until 2023. I knew it felt impossible to pay more than the minimum student loan payment by moving out of Wisconsin. So I didn’t move to more desirable areas like California, New York and Seattle after Chicago didn’t work out for me. So before you start your own rapid student loan payment plan use this estimator to find your payoff date. Then figure out how to shorten it.

2. Set a monthly target and hit it every month

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My $1,500 student loan payment target.

The more you pay each month the sooner you’ll live debt free. I wanted to pay $2,000 to $3,000 a month but that’s not realistic so I settled for $1,500 a month. I made sure I hit that target every month. It didn’t start out that way though. I paid $50 a month extra. Then $440 a month until I reached my goal of $1,500 a month. I wanted to do more, but I told myself wait until your bank account surpasses your student loan balance to make the giant payments. Once April rolled around I made a $5,833.13 payment and wiped away my debt for good with $160 to spare. I thought I’d do it in September, but I ended up paying my student loans off four months earlier than expected.

3. Create a Mint account

It may seem like a real pain to track your money, but doing so makes you more conscious of your spending. So consider Mint and other finances apps to track your spending. The envelope strategy is a good idea too.

4. Read Student Loan Hero for motivation and inspiration

Reading stories of others who paid off way more student loan debt than me motivated me to pay off my own. I found people whose student loans balance skyrocketed up to $129,000 and they paid it off in five years. So, if you feel bad about your student debt read some of these stories to boost your spirits. No matter how bad your financial situation feels it’s likely someone started out worse than you did. And if they’re living debt free why can’t you?

5. Become a finance expert

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Reading about finances isn’t very fun, but it’s a good idea to read up on the topic so you don’t make costly mistakes. Check out I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. His book is great and his blog contains a lot of helpful advice. I also like Lifehacker’s Two Cents, NerdWallet and The Penny Hoarder website. And don’t forget to check out Napoleon Hill’s famous Think and Grow Rich. As well as David Ramsey’s legendary debt snowball method and Warren Buffet’s financial tips. All these resources help you look at finances in a new way and get serious about managing your money.

MISTAKES TO AVOID

6. Don’t do forbearance unless it’s absolutely necessary

If you’re unable to make your monthly student loan payments forbearance isn’t a bad option for a temporary fix. With forbearance, you don’t make payments, but your interest rolls over each month. I ended up paying more than $1,000 extra because I neglected my student loans until I got the “perfect job”. So consider forbearance if you’re in financial danger, but go back to a regular payment plan ASAP.

7. Don’t settle for making only the smallest monthly payment

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I never made a late payment, but for too long I only paid the smallest monthly payment of $218.70. If I didn’t get serious and started paying more each month it would take me until 2023 to pay off all my student loans. Remember the more you pay each month the less interest you’ll pay in the long run. Even if it’s only $50 extra a month do whatever it takes to increase your monthly payment. You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars in interest payments.

8. Don’t forget to refinance your loans

A 5.8% student loan interest rate isn’t too bad, but I considered refinancing my loans. Since I paid my loan off fast I didn’t do it. It’s a great option though. Since your interest rate often drops below 2%. Many banks and credit unions offer this service so take advantage of it. Especially if you’re planning on paying off your loans for a long time. The downside? Refinancing your student loans usually means it’s difficult to change your payment plan. So before committing to it make sure you’re financially stable first.

9. Don’t forget to set up automatic payments for lower interest rate

A .25 percent reduction doesn’t sound like much, but if it’s going to take you awhile to pay your student loans off it’s worth it. I procrastinated on this because I found myself between jobs without work, but it’s a good idea. And even if you only set up the smallest automatic payment it adds up. Just remember to make extra monthly payments to pay off your student loans faster.

10. Don’t neglect your 401K, savings account and emergency fund

Carrying a staggering amount of student loan debt? If that’s the case, then it’s best to invest most of your extra income somewhere else. Why? When you’re in your 20’s and 30’s your retirement account contributions matter more now than later. The same amount you contribute in your 40’s and 50’s won’t match what you put in when you’re younger. Even though retirement seems far away don’t forget to contribute to your 401K or Roth IRA.

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And don’t forget about building yourself an emergency fund either. If something unexpected comes up, you need to prepare for the worst. So pay off your student loans as fast as possible. But don’t do so at the cost of not contributing to your retirement account, savings account and emergency fund.

BIG TIPS TO GET OUT OF DEBT FASTER

11. Consider moving back in with your parents

The easiest tip and the most painful tip to do. A tough decision at 29, but I decided to swallow my pride and live at home to pay off my student loans faster. That way I easily put $1,500 a month towards my student loan every month. Plus, I didn’t need to worry about any other expensive living expenses. Like groceries, the internet and other utility costs. As a result, I paid off $15,000 in student loans (+ interest) in seven months. Not an option for you? Then get some roommates or rent out a room to decrease your rent.

12. Live away from the city or popular areas

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It was tough to leave San Francisco, but it’s not going anywhere.

Living in a city rocks if you’re a young millennial. But it places a burden on your finances if you’re not careful. So, consider living out of the city for a financial break. You’ll often save on rent and it’s easier to avoid all the distractions and impulse buys from the city. It’s possible to find good deals in the city though. You’ll just want to look at less desirable areas for cheaper rent.

For instance, when I lived in San Francisco I lived in the Excelsior District. Not the most exciting area, but I didn’t pay out the nose for rent and other living costs either. If I chose more popular areas like the Mission and North Beach, I would run out of cash fast. And although my commute into San Francisco took time, I still lived in the city without breaking the bank.

13. Know your weaknesses and address them

Most of my disposable income goes to videogames and food. That said I’ve found ways to limit my spending on both. Many people consider videogames an expensive hobby, but it’s not if you’re smart about it. Instead of spending $60 on a brand new game. I spend $16 a month on GameFly and rent new releases. I also follow Cheap Ass Gamer and Wario64 on Twitter to get notified on price drops. In fact, I rarely buy a game for over $20 these days and instead opt to wait until it’s cheaper.

For food, I read food blogs, use coupons, buy in bulk, make my own meals and limit fast food to once a week to save money. Keep in mind eating out and buying drinks isn’t a bad thing if you track your spending. And if you find creative ways to indulge. Such as choosing fast food options like Chipotle, Chinese food and $5 deals that fill you up. Plus, you’ll often get two meals out of these orders. Making it a viable option in the long run and you’ll feel less inclined to eat out more than once a week.

So, figure out where most of your money goes and find a way to cut the cost or reduce it.

14. Work smart, not hard, but do work very hard for short periods

For obvious reasons you want to work the job that pays more, but sometimes that’s not always an option. And it’s possible to make more money by juggling two or three jobs instead. That’s what I did from November 2016 to January 2017 and again in March 2017 to April 2017.

Working three jobs seven days a week along with 18 hours of driving may sound crazy. But I wanted my student loans gone by 2018 so I made the sacrifice. Having three paychecks made a big difference when making student loan payments.

I found working every day easier than working the same type of jobs M-F. Working 8- 12 hour days not too bad every day. But working 16 hours M-F even with weekends off not so much fun. The variety of jobs helps too. I didn’t mind doing sales work and talking to people after doing factory work.

Not thrilled about working overtime? Just remember it’s only temporary. It’s a lot easier to get through a long work week if you know ahead of time when the job ends. For example, I did a 10-week job with Microsoft as a brand ambassador so I knew it didn’t mean forever which kept me going.

15. Be ready for roadblocks

road block

My temporary job with Microsoft paid well to justify the long commute, but I didn’t drop my other jobs that paid less. That way I prepared myself for the financial hit when the job ended. Which meant keeping up my $1,500 a month student loan payment plans a non-issue. But don’t feel bad if you struggle one month and can’t hit your target. Instead, try to hit it next month or close to it until you get your monthly income back on track.

16. Delay gratification

The other hardest tip besides living with your parents. I wanted to throw in the towel and move back to San Francisco so many times, but I didn’t. I passed on applying to dream jobs because I knew I’d only make $218.70 monthly student loan payments if I moved. I made a commitment to paying off my student loans and I intended to finish what I started.

To fight the depression, I visualized a life without debt. Mentally said over and over again it’s only temporary and kept going. I remembered what a neighbor told me in San Francisco that the city isn’t going anywhere. But your student loans won’t go away on their own.

No matter how bad it got I remembered by paying $1,500 each month I saved myself years of being in debt. I actually looked forward to seeing $1,500 go away each month from my bank account. Because each payment meant seven months without debt. Remember your situation is only temporary. So repeat the words “I’ll handle it” again and again until you believe it.

IF YOU CAN’T FIND A JOB IN YOUR FIELD OR NEED EXTRA INCOME

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Can’t find a full-time job in your field? It’s one of the most frustrating feelings after graduating college. Not to mention you’re stuck with expensive student loans to pay off. Luckily, your major doesn’t dictate your fate. So if your major isn’t working out then get a job outside your field. Yeah, it’s not what you want to do. But it’s better than starving yourself, not paying your bills and filing bankruptcy.

In a similar situation? Look below for some work ideas I used when writing full-time didn’t work out for me.

17. Some temporary job ideas

These work whether you’re looking for work or want to boost your monthly income. Plus, they pay better than minimum wage jobs and a degree isn’t required. So consider these until you get the job you want. Or as another part-time job besides your main job. And don’t feel ashamed to take any of these jobs because you think the work is beneath you. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to survive.

One thing to keep in mind though. Don’t list them on your resume or LinkedIn when applying for jobs in your desired field. It reflects poorly on you if you include irrelevant jobs outside of your field. Also, it’s worse than gaps on your resume. If an employer in your field asks about employment gaps just say you did these jobs to pay the bills. But leave them off your resume and LinkedIn unless it’s relevant to the job you want.

Security guard

My first job out of college. I spent most of the time patrolling a college art dorm and writing hourly notes. It paid pretty well and if you take more training classes your pay rate rises above $20hr. Another great perk for me included ample time to pursue freelance writing work. Some companies won’t allow electronic devices, but take advantage of your downtime if they do. It’s easy to work on some paid contract work or take online classes between your patrols and hourly notes.

Brand ambassador

Often pays double what retail does and you don’t need to use the cash register. Plus, some companies offer commission, quarterly bonuses and deep discounts on products. It’s a hard job to find full-time since most positions favor seasonal or part-time workers. However, it’s easy way to make some extra money on top of your existing full-time job. Or a great temporary job while you look for something more permanent.

Factory worker

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One of the fastest ways to pay off your student loans. You make good money doing overtime along with great benefits like health insurance. Work with a Union if possible though. I worked at a clothing, cheese and plastic factory and the latter had the best benefits because of the Union. The work gets boring. But with overtime, I made $24hr and $32hr on Sundays. And if you get it regularly with just an extra eight hours a week it’s possible to add $250 to your weekly check. Also, sometimes it’s not a bad idea to work a boring job. So you can have more time to focus on your passions, career goals and hobbies.

Conference event staff

A great place to network and make contacts to help you advance in your career. I volunteered for VentureBeat conferences and wrote articles on the GamesBeat community page. The experience helped me get hired at a tech PR agency and as a coauthor on a eBook for TapSense. Later I worked for a staffing company and made $400 bucks for two days of work. Like brand ambassador jobs most of the jobs only offer part-time hours or seasonal positions. But if you get them it’s a good source of extra income.

Temp agency

Already work full time? Consider a temp agency where you work once or twice a week. It’s an easy way to add an extra $60 to $200 a week. I worked at a cheese factory once a week and got paid $13hr to put cheese in a box and make boxes. I liked working there. Plus, I got free fresh mozzarella cheese to take home weekly. The money added up and I kept doing even after I paid my loans off for more income.

Remote work

remote work

No jobs in your area or live too far away from the city? Do your best to freelance your services to others in cities on Craigslist. Or look for contract work on AngeList and email people. A good way to build your resume and get hired full time later.

Costco

I worked at Costco as a brand ambassador for Sony and enjoyed working with the staff. Very friendly people who received great benefits. Like 401K match and shift premiums for working Sunday. I also liked that I got a free lunch every weekend I worked there because of the food samples. And I respect Costco for not forcing their staff to work on Thanksgiving. A rarity among retailers. So, if your job options feel limited then consider Costco. Finally, not surprising, but Costco received the best place to work this year from Forbes.

LITTLE TIPS THAT HELP

18. For holidays ask for gift cards or student loan payments

When my birthday and Christmas came around I didn’t request new video games or other gifts. I asked for gift cards so when new video games released next year I could use the cards instead of my cash. That way the cash I’d normally use on new games went to my student loan payments instead.

19. Use those credit card rewards

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Guilt free spending at its finest. Everything here bought with credit card rewards and Amazon gift cards.

Everyone uses credit cards, but do you take advantage of your rewards? The more you use them for everyday purchases and monthly bills the more you build up points or cash. So practice some self-discipline and don’t buy those expensive purchases until you accumulate enough cash or points. Some good cards I use include the Amazon Prime Reward Visa Signature Card and Discover Card. I get 5% back on select purchases with both of these cards.

20. Use your tax return towards student loans

I got a bigger tax return than I expected this year so I used it to pay off my student loans early. With the money saved up from working three jobs and the $1,500 from my tax return, I made a student loan payment of $5,833.13. Paying almost four times what I paid in the previous four months. So when tax season rolls around resist the temptation to use it for your wants and put the money towards your debt. Think about it. By making one giant student loan payment once a year you’ll knock a year or more off your debt.

21. Make as many sacrifices as possible

I avoided bars, frequent trips to Madison and opt to stay home most nights. I didn’t go to expensive video game or anime conventions which I enjoy. I didn’t get a smartphone and stuck with a boring flip phone. Didn’t subscribe to Netflix. Did my best to limit fast food to once a week. Forgot about the gym membership and worked out at home. Didn’t see most new movies opening night and went to a Saturday morning matinee instead.

You get the idea. Think of ways to cut back and save that extra money for student loan payments. Here’s a list for some ideas that help. But like Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to Be Rich says make sure you focus on the big wins first.

22. Try your luck at the casino and lottery tickets

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Not a bad day at the Casino.

It’s possible to make good money if you gamble smart. I won $304.95 at the slot machines and a few bucks off some lottery tickets. Keep in mind games like blackjack and craps result in better luck in your favor than the slot machine. But you never know when you’ll get lucky. So don’t feel guilty about visiting your local casino to win some extra money.

Be responsible for your gambling and lottery ticket buying though. You don’t want to turn into the Twilight Zone guy. I set a restriction of once a month or every other month and a $40 limit. I view it as entertainment like going to movie or concert. I also only buy lottery tickets when the jackpot’s high and every other time I fill up on gas.

23. Sell your unused goods online

I’ve written about eBay, Craigslist and Amazon before so no need to reiterate. There’s treasure everywhere in your room. So get rid of some of your unused belongings for cash. Spend an hour or more on the weekend making listings and keep it up every week. The extra cash adds up.

WHEN THE BIG DAY ARRIVES

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First off congratulate yourself! You’ve accomplished something most people take decades to do. Treat yourself to a nice dinner or a special gift. I went out for Mexican food with my parents and bought a Nintendo Switch to celebrate being debt free.

So you’re out of debt now what?

Use that extra money from your paychecks and invest in your future. Put more money in your 401K, Roth IRA, savings account and resolve never to get into debt again. Finally, share your story and help others around you achieve financial freedom too.

Student loans feel like a big bag of bricks on your back that never goes away. However, with some determination and hard work, it’s not impossible to get rid of them. Not all these tips apply to everyone. But I hope anyone who reads this blog post finds some way to rid themselves of their student loans for good. I’ve shared my story. Now it’s up to you how fast you pay your student loans off. Best of luck and remember not to give up no matter how hopeless your situation is. If I can do it so can you.

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My Favorite Games of 2016- Honorable Mentions

Now that you’ve read my top 10 games of 2016 here are my honorable mentions. These are games I didn’t play enough of in 2016 to issue a verdict. As well as a few I didn’t beat until 2017. Let’s begin.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Last Guardian (PS4)
What an amazing game. Like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the Last Guardian pulls at your heartstrings. In fact, its touching emotional story might even bring you to tears. But it also frustrates you with its awkward camera angles and cumbersome controls. Patience is definitely required to enjoy this game. You play as a young boy who encounters a giant cat like creature called Trico. Together you solve puzzles and the bond your form with Trico will grow over time. I can’t think of any other AI that behaves so animal like and if I had finished the Last Guardian in 2016 it easily be my game of the year.

Inside (Xbox One)
It was a long six-year wait for Playdead’s follow-up to Limbo, but the wait was well worth it. Inside starts slow and I didn’t know what to expect of it, but it grew on me the more I played it. Like Limbo, the death scenes are pretty brutal and you will die a lot. Yet, I’m glad I stuck with it because it climaxes in the last half hour with some incredible set pieces. Which will leave you saying WTF? It’s also impressive that Inside tells its story without any dialogue. And it’s a game I still think about even after finishing it.

Super Mario Run (iOS)
So, this is what a Mario games feels like on mobile. While the main quest is over in a few hours. The real meat of the game is collecting all the pink, purple, and black coins. Which demand peak old school Mario skills. I’ve enjoyed my time with Super Mario Run and although I’m still getting used to an auto running Mario I can’t stop. I’m excited to see what’s next for Nintendo on mobile. Zelda or Metroid, please.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii U)
One of my favorite Zelda games now remastered in HD. I haven’t had much time with it but, I can’t wait to jump back in and see if it still holds up. For me, Twilight Princess is the best 3D Zelda game. It may lack the tighter story and pacing of Ocarina Time. But it has comparable dungeon design and better combat. Play it if you missed it the first time.

Pokemon Moon (3DS)
Finally, Pokemon is doing something new! I’m glad GameFreak altered the standard beat eight gym leaders routine. Instead, you must complete trials to progress. I’m only a few hours in and I already think this it’s one of the best Pokemon games ever made. The new 3D graphics look much better than Pokemon X and Y and the Hawaii theme is exciting. In case you were wondering I chose Moon over Sun because I use to have a dog named Moon. Also, I usually play videogames in the evening anyway so the time cycle works better for me than Sun would. But, whatever version of Pokemon you play it’s great so don’t fret over which version to play.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)
How much do I like Uncharted 4? I’ve put off playing some PlayStation VR games to play more of this game. The platforming and gunplay are the best its ever been and the story keeps me motivated to keep playing. I’m not the biggest fan of Sam, Nathan Drake’s older brother, but it does lead to some interesting story ideas. Like Last Guardian, Uncharted 4 would be at the top of my top 10 had I finished it last year.

Adventures of Mana (iOS)
Am I dreaming? A new Seiken Densetsu game that doesn’t suck? I’ve written about my disappointment about the series fall from grace before. So I’m glad to say that this remake of the first game is the best one since Seiken Densetsu 3. The game works well on mobile. And despite the annoyance of having to buy keys and pick axes to progress, I dig it.

Starfox Guard (Wii U)
A pleasant surprise that’s so far better than Star Fox Zero, the game its bundle with at retail. Starfox Guard uses the Wii U’s two-screen gimmick through a tower defense game. The gameplay utilizes 13 cameras on screen with your base in the middle. The goal is to destroy all robots before they get to the center. And you must switch between cameras on the gamepad to succeed. So far, I’m about halfway through and it’s pretty addicting. Also, one of the best uses of the Wii U’s gamepad I’ve seen.

Deus Ex Go (iOS)
Square Enix Montreal nails it again with their popular Go formula. Like Lara Croft Go, Deus Ex Go has you outwitting enemies through clever puzzles. Best played for minutes a day the game gets more challenging with each new level. It’s very cool so far and makes me eager to finish Human Revolution again so I can start Mankind Divided.

Severed (PS Vita)
The Metroid-like Guacamelee was one of my favorite games of 2013 so I was eager to give Severed a try. I’m very early in the game, but it has a novel concept. And like Terraway some of the best uses of the touch screen on the PlayStation Vita.  For instance, you must swipe furiously on the screen and use proper timing to defeat enemies. It’s very intuitive and I like the art style which is like Guacamalee.

PlayStation VR
I didn’t get a chance to play with my PS VR last year because I worked so much. But, the $500 investment was well worth it. For the first time, it I feel like I’m in a video game. So far, I’ve played a ton of demos, finished PS VR Worlds, been the Batman in Arkham VR and survived Resident Evil VII. However, the most awesome thing about VR is I sometimes forget I’m not in my room because it is so immersive. While you can tell the graphics on some games take a hit, I’m sold on the technology.

Thanks for reading and check back next year for my top 10 games of 2017!

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My 10 Favorite Games of 2016

What a year! 2016 marks another incredible year in videogames. While I didn’t play Dishonored 2, Overwatch, Final Fantasy XV and Battlefield 1. I did play enough amazing videogames to make a top 10 list. As always, to make my top 10 I had to finish and complete each game before 2017. So without further ado here are my top games of 2016.

MY TOP 10 FAVORITE GAMES OF 2016

10. Chase: Cold Case Investigations- Distant Memories (3DS)
A short episodic downloadable eshop game running around 90 minutes. While brief it was great to return to the character Kyle Hyde. Who stars in the excellent Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Last Window: Secret of Cape West on Nintendo DS. Be sure to check them out if you like visual novels. They’re among the best. While a little bit of the Hotel Dusk magic doesn’t transition to 3DS. Such as the novelty of holding it like a book and the cool pencil shading A-ha style cutscenes. The new color graphics on 3DS look great and the game now resembles a Telltale game. While the gameplay is light. I like the question interrogation playstyle. At only about 90 minutes it’s pretty short which explains its $5.00 price tag. Yet, I’m rooting for its success so I can enjoy a few more episodes of one of my favorite detectives.

9. Star Fox Zero (Wii U)
Not as terrible as you heard, but not great either. Videogame critics are right that Starfox Zero controls suck. But they’re not insurmountable. In fact, I got the hang out of switching between the Wii U screen and TV screen after a few missions. Starfox Zero is the best Starfox since Starfox 64. Because it’s a reimagining of that game a la Goldeneye(Wii) and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories(Wii). There are some surprises too like the Walker which is pretty fun. And the Landmaster having full on air capabilities this time around is pretty cool. I also like the increased focus on boss battles, which were very intense, even though a few dragged on a bit.

Where it falters for me is the lack of strong replay value. I played the shit out of Star Fox 64 back in 1997. And despite its short length, I got three playthroughs out of it. I explored every planet, got the second ending, and then got all the gold medals to unlock expert mode. Star Fox Zero does have unlockable missions and branching paths. But, most of them are battles with Star Wolf or short missions that don’t feel very epic. I felt done with Starfox Zero after one full playthrough. Still, besides Zero not having long legs like Starfox 64 I’m glad it exists. And I hope Nintendo takes the lesson they learn from this one and give Star Fox another chance on Switch.

8. Far Cry Primal (PS4)
I loved Far Cry 4’s open world and using a bow in Tomb Raider. So the fact that Far Cry Primal takes the best bits of both games makes it one of my favorite games of the year. The prehistoric setting is refreshing with no guns seen at all. And kudos to Ubisoft for telling a convincing story with a new language. Going through the game as a stealthy archer and throwing clubs at enemies worked best for me. This made the game much more enjoyable versus going the ultra aggressive route. Which entails fighting large groups of enemies with melee attacks. And running away often to recover health.

Still, you can’t be a ghost the whole time either. For example, in boss battles, you must be offensive to win. Speaking of which those bosses battles drag on way too long. It’s one of my only complaints with the game. Other than the annoyance of animals attacking you while exploring the open world. Yet, despite its flaws, I’m not tired of the Far Cry formula and I’m excited for the eventual Far Cry 5.

7. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PS4)
Once you’ve played one Lego game you’ve pretty much played them all. Still, I appreciate Travelers Tale changing up the formula a little bit this time. For example, there is a cute Gears of War cover system. Some neat Star Fox style ariel battles and other surprises. The graphics also look great and like other Lego games, it’s always a treat to watch the cutscenes.

I haven’t had a chance to jump into all the various DLC released. But after beating the main game you’ll definitely want to go back and collect gold bricks to unlock new levels. Which explain what happen to Pao, how C-3PO got his red arm and more backstory not shown in The Force Awakens. So, if you like Lego games and Star Wars definitely check this one out because it’s one of the better ones. I can’t wait for the eventual episode 8 and 9 Lego Star Wars games.

6. Mirrors Edge Catalyst (PS4)
The original Mirrors Edge is one of my favorite first-person games. So when EA green lit a sequel I was very excited. Well, a reboot anyway. They definitely fixed the first title’s biggest weakness. The combat. Which turned the game into a first- person shooter that didn’t mesh well with the parkour gameplay. And as a result, Catalyst is a less frustrating game than its predecessor. Stylized graphic cutscenes are also removed in favor of regular in- game cutscenes. Also, the game has gone open world. What hasn’t changed is the awesome techno style music and the thrilling parkour gameplay.

No game does parkour better. And running around and jumping across buildings is an exhilarating experience. Where the game falters is the optional busy quests common in many open world games. Running around for time trials is exciting, but delivering packages not so much. Also, I didn’t dislike the storyline, but it’s nothing to write home about either. Again, these are minor issues. So if you want to play something unique and fun give Mirrors Edge Catalyst a shot.

5. Attack on Titan (PS4)
What a pleasant surprise. Attack on Titan is much better than I was expecting and it nails the look and feel of the show. After beating the game I’m still not tired of zipping around the environment like Spiderman. Missions are short and like the show, you must target the neck of the Titan to bring them down. A resource management system keeps you from feeling overpowered too. Since you must track your health fuel and blade strength to survive.

One of my favorite features of the game though is you can choose from many characters. Who each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Eren the main character, for example, can transform into a titan. Armin can issue orders to your squad to take down titans and Levi is very powerful. Where the game loses steam is after you beat the main story. To unlock the last five missions you have to play dozens of side missions. Unfortunately, they aren’t very interesting. Plus they weren’t worth the effort to get the true ending. Still, I enjoyed my time with Attack on Titan. And if you’re a fan of the anime definitely play it.

4. Quantum Break (Xbox One)
I loved Alan Wake so I couldn’t wait for Quantum Break. Remedy found a clever way to merge TV and video games together to create something wonderful. The time travel plot isn’t revolutionary, but it does lead to interesting gameplay. Like the ability to surround yourself with a bubble shield to block bullets. A time dash to sneak up on enemies, charging shots, freezing time and more clever uses. It’s definitely the best gameplay Remedy has developed. The TV portions where you watch 20 plus minute episodes between chapters aren’t bad too. The acting isn’t bad either with performances from Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from X-Men). Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) and Lance Reddick from( The Wire).

Unfortunately, Quantum Break doesn’t deliver on its promise. Previews made it look like your choices changed the content of the TV show and gameplay. After playing it twice the TV portions were almost identical. The gameplay as well was pretty much the same. Only minimalist stuff happen. Such as side characters changing roles, different emails, and changes in the environment. I was hoping for two unique playthroughs and different TV content. And I didn’t get that with Quantum Break. But at least I got some more achievements. And the satisfaction of beating it on hard by playing it a second time, though. But, the game’s ending does tease an upcoming sequel which I hope is on the way soon.

3. Doom (PS4)
A huge breath of fresh air in the first-person shooter landscape. Doom is a fast and visceral experience that brings back the glory days of first-person shooters. What it lacks in strong narrative it makes up for in thrilling gameplay. The enemies get more aggressive the further you get and the weapons bigger and more deadly. I appreciate Doom’s emphasis on offense to gather more health too. Where staying still and hiding behind cover gets you killed. Although the game is difficult, you can adjust the difficulty at any time. Versus restarting the whole level like in other games which help reduce frustration. Bosses are creative and imaginative too and will test your trigger fingers.

Downsides? the multiplayer is forgettable. I only played a few hours of multiplayer and got tired of it pretty quick. Also, while the campaign is great, it lacks surprises in the last third. And instead of introducing more new enemies it throws more of ones you already faced. But, Doom is a great return to form. And if you like it definitely check out the fabulous Wolfenstein reboot games too.

2. Titanfall 2 (Xbox One)
It was a tough call to decide which is better Doom or Titanfall 2. But Titanfall 2 won because for me mechs are cooler than demons. The campaign is always showing you something new and motivates you to keep playing. Whether its varied levels with time traveling mechanics. Jumping between factory lines a la Prince of Persia style. Or more surprises I won’t spoil. Titanfall 2’s campaign kicks ass. The character development between Titan BT-7274 and the pilot are great. No joke, you will give a shit about your robot and miss him when you’re separated from him. Finally, like Doom Titanfall 2 has some amazing boss battles. And there are enough titan configurations to keep combat from getting stale.

While I would have liked some more sword combat there is not much else to complain here. Multiplayer is fun, but like the first game, I felt fulfilled after playing a few hours. And I didn’t feel compelled to play more. For me, the single player is the real gem. Not to fault Titanfall 2 or anything, but I’ve never been addicted to multiplayer shooters.

1. Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One)
It’s been too long since I’ve played a good arcade racer. I miss the Burnout and Project Gotham Racing days. So Forza Horizon 3 is a welcome blast from the past. The gorgeous countryside of Australia is impressive. And it’s refreshing to see a racing game explore uncharted territory not seen in most games. Out of all the varied country landscape, the outback is my favorite. I love the freedom to chose which events I want to progress in the campaign. If I want to do races I can to that. If I want to do stunts, drifting, time trials I can do that. The car selection is great and the game has an awesome soundtrack that got me driving around just for fun.

It’s not perfect, though. I grew tired of the game after dozens of hours. And didn’t feel compelled to 100% it. Or race online very much. But, any game gets boring after you play it too much. So the fact that I got so much enjoyment out of Forza Horizon 3 is a testament to its quality.

There you have it my favorite games of 2016. Check back in 2018 for my favorite games of 2017. January 2017 is already looking pretty busy for me with Zelda, Persona 5, and more. So 2017 is off to a good start already and looks to be one of the best years in video games ever.

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5 Books to Aid Career Development

reading

Knowledge is power. And one way to become an expert in any subject is to read. Thousands of career development books exist, but it’s difficult to know where to start. So, to make the process less daunting for you here’s some of my book recommendations. Along with some helpful tips on how to get the most out of your reading. 

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

A great book for finding your calling in life. I agree with Cal Newport that making your passion is not the best career advice. Instead, developing skills and career capital is the most efficient approach. Much like how Steve Jobs wasn’t initially passionate about computers. But later found the work rewarding and transformed Apple into the tech giant it is today. So, if you struggle with the advice “do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life” this book is for you.

 

Who Moved my Cheese by Spencer Johnson

A short story examining a group of people frustrated that they can’t find their cheese. The same concept applies to people in a job search. What I like best about this book is it teaches you to laugh at yourself. And to accept you can’t stay on the same career path forever. Otherwise, you’ll remain frustrated, and your situation won’t change. Worth a read and best of all not a long book either. If you enjoy it check out Johnson’s other book One Minute Manager for more great advice.

 

What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles

By far the most famous career advice book. What Color is Your Parachute is updated every year and is a gold mine for career development. It shows you how the current job market has changed. And why you should spend less time on inefficient job application processes like job boards. Instead, it teaches you to think more creatively. And market yourself correctly by reaching out to people directly through the parachute method. The flower petal exercise is fantastic and worth the price of the book alone. It’s a great exercise for looking inside yourself and discovering what your true interests are. Ensuring you go after the jobs that best match your unique style. Also, included are helpful links to other resources, like organizations, websites, and books. Read it if you haven’t. You won’t regret it.

 

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

An excellent book on how to communicate with people. Carnegie gives good practical advice that many people forget like taking an interest in other people’s life, using their name often and listening to people. But what I love best about this book is it shows you how to give feedback to people without criticizing them. And how to teach someone a lesson without being mean to them. My highest recommendation. Also, be sure to print out each principle to refer to later.

 

The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

Timothy Ferriss’s most famous book. What I found most useful from reading his book are the productivity tips. Such as getting the most critical task done before 11am. Only checking email twice a day and the importance of taking rest away from work. Mini-retirements are a genius idea too. Like What Color is Your Parachute there are also tons of links for further reading and advice too. If you like this book check out his website for helpful articles, videos and podcasts.

TIPS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING

Don’t just read books

Besides career books at your local library look to other mediums for reading too. Explore websites like Inc and Entrepreneur for career articles. Sign up for weekly newsletters, email tips, set Google alerts. Read the newspaper. Make reading a daily ritual.

Make time for reading

If you’re too busy with work and family obligations, it’s possible you don’t have time to read, but there is a way. For most people, your mornings and evenings are under your control. And if you spend just 15 to 30 minutes daily making reading part of your schedule it can be done. Reading while commuting or audio books are another option.

Keep a reading log

Reading a book isn’t enough. You need to keep a reading log and take notes. First, make the process easy for yourself. Start by copying and pasting words you find relevant into a word document. Next, write the page number down so you can reference it later. Finally, immediately after reading write down any thoughts or reflections down. It’s important to do this immediately while the info is fresh on your mind. Otherwise, you’ll forget about it later.

Rotate books to offset boredom

It’s boring to read the same book week after week. So if you lose interest in a long book set it aside for a week and read something else and then come back to it. I like reading two books at a time and having two on the back burner to switch out when I get bored.

Make a plan of action

Knowledge is power, but even more critical then reading is the application. Most people who buy self-help books read them and don’t apply anything. They then keep buying books and wonder why nothing’s changed with their life. Don’t let that happen to you. After you finish a book set a time to do the exercises in the books and fit the new habits into your schedule. The best time to apply something is right after you read it. I like to do 15 minutes of reading and 15 minutes of application immediately afterward daily. You could also set aside an hour or more on the weekend to tackle larger application exercises.

 

Reading career development books will bring on significant changes in your life. But only if you apply what you read. Test out some of these books and see what you think. Have any career book recommendations of you own? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hacking your weekends to get ahead in life

weekend work

You should relax on weekends and not work. I agree. But with proper planning, you can put yourself ahead for the following week without sacrificing too much of your weekend time. How? Let’s take a look.

WHAT TO DO

Write and schedule emails for five or more people
Email is a part of everyone’s daily live and you’re always writing to someone. So why not save yourself some time the following week by spending an hour or two drafting emails. It’s time-consuming to write emails so five or fewer works best. Once you finish your emails, leave them in your Google draft folders. Then send them first thing in the morning next week. One a day works best, so you don’t get overwhelmed responding to everyone at once. Also, consider using apps like Boomerang. Which let you schedule a specific time to send your emails. Doing so will increase your chance of getting a response.

Make extra cash
Time is money. And if you’re not making enough from your day job then consider selling things online. Start by making a list of items you want to sell. Then research how much your items go for online. Next take some photos and write good descriptions. Finally, place a listing online and make sure you know how you’re going to ship everything. If you make it a weekly habit, you’ll add some nice pocket change to treat yourself later. Or use the extra money to help pay off big debts like student loans easier.

Make your job list for next week
If you’re unemployed or unhappy with your job, then you know a job search takes a lot of time and energy. So, instead of wasting too much time searching for employment every day do most of it once a week. By making a list of jobs you’re interested in early, you’ll get ahead of people who wait until Monday.

Update your online profiles and digital portfolios
Creating an excellent LinkedIn profile or other social media accounts take a lot of work. And once it’s finished, it’s easy to forget about it. But if you take the time to enhance your profile you’ll reap the benefits. Do this for other websites that demand a profile too like AngelList, Upwork and more. By making a weekly commitment, you’ll find working on your profile more enjoyable. Versus working on it all at once.

Plan your week
Benjamin Franklin planned his week and not just his day. It’s good advice, and you’ll notice a boost in your productivity if you do the same. To start, figure out your most critical tasks and pick a day you’ll focus on them. Don’t force yourself to do too much, though. It’s best to focus on just one big task a day along with your other daily responsibilities.

Look for networking events and add them to your monthly schedule
Every week something is going on in your city. But if you procrastinate and wait until the last minute you might miss your deadline to attend an event. To prevent that from happening to you make planning your social life a weekly commitment. The easiest way is to browse websites like Eventbrite, Meetups and other social sites. Going to one a week works best. But feel free to go to more. By doing this, you’ll sometimes find hot events before they go viral. And by registering ahead of time, you may get free admission or pay a lower fee than if you waited longer.

Do your grocery shopping and cook your meals
If you do your grocery shopping on the weekend, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money the following week. Yes, sometimes it’s cheaper to shop on weekdays. But on your weekday evenings, it’s better to unwind than shop. Also, you’re less likely to buy take out and eat healthier if you have your meals taken care of ahead of time.

Plan your work wardrobe
Same idea with foods. Pick five outfits for the week. So you won’t waste valuable time each morning looking for the perfect thing to wear.

HOW TO STAY FOCUSED ON WEEKENDS

Work early hours
Just like the work day your early hours are the most productive. So when you tackle any of these tasks do them right away in the morning if possible. If you wait until later in the day, you’ll find it harder to focus and likely procrastinate. I find before noon on weekends works best and like to leave the rest of the day for socializing or relaxing.

Limit hours for task
Weekends shouldn’t resemble a work day so for each of these tasks don’t spend more than 90 minutes on them. If you don’t finish any of these tasks, then save it for next week.

Leave the house
Working from home isn’t for everyone, and if you find it difficult it’s time for a change of scenery. One of the bright sides of working weekends is it’s usually less busy at your favorite workspace. Since not as many people commute into the city. So if there is a spot you like, that’s too crowded on weekdays try it on the weekend instead.

Listen to podcasts
At home, it’s easy to get distracted and sit around the house all day. Which isn’t a bad thing if you need to re-energize before the work week. But to ensure you stay productive try listening to podcasts in the background. Listening to something entertaining helps fight off boredom and makes these tasks more enjoyable. Better yet if you listen to many podcasts, you can use each one for a certain task to stick to a schedule.

 
Working on weekends isn’t ideal. But if you spare a few hours you’ll set yourself up for a more productive week and get ahead of your peers. Try some of these tips out and see if you notice any benefits. If not, keep adjusting your weekend schedule until you find the perfect rhythm.

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Finding your perfect workspace away from home(part two)

Workspace 2 pic.jpg

Welcome back to part two of finding your perfect workspace away from home. In part one, I covered workspaces like libraries, coffee shops and hotels. For part two let’s look at five more workspaces that I encourage you to try. Let’s begin.

Laundromat

Pros
An odd one for sure, but the right laundromat provides many benefits. More than ever laundromats include free Wi-Fi and tables perfect for getting work done. Go on weekdays for the best working experience since the laundromat’s usually deserted then. Early mornings on weekends isn’t a bad idea either.

Cons
Like libraries all laundromats aren’t created equal. So your local one possibly won’t work for you, and you’ll need to find a better one. The downtime you need to work productively sometimes not an option either if it’s a busy place. Experiment with different times and locations for the best results.

Coworking space

Pros
A popular trend nowadays. Places like WeWork offer an efficient workspace that often trumps every other workspace. Landlords want to keep their customers happy so you’ll find these locations very accommodating. And the workspace closely resembles the environment of an office making it very practical. These places also offer free beverages, premium seating, flexible hours and private rooms. Like to network? It’s a gold mine here. Since people from various industries come here, you’ll likely meet someone to help you advance your career.

Cons
The monthly membership cost. Similar to a gym, you’re paying a monthly or yearly fee which adds up fast. However, if you’re tired of spending money at coffee shops and don’t pay expensive commuting costs to get here it’s probably cheaper.

Parks

Pros
With free Wi-Fi available almost anywhere it’s more practical to work outdoors than ever. It’s true. In many cities, you’ll find public spots like parks with workspaces at a table, bench or spots under a tree that’s yours for the taking. Additionally, research shows that small exposure to sunlight make you feel more productive and energized.

Cons
If you don’t bring sunglasses and a sun resistant laptop sometimes, it’s so bright outside you can’t see your electronics. You need to watch that your electronics don’t overheat too. But if you work in the shade, this isn’t an issue. Lastly, depending on what time of day you go, a park isn’t a productive work environment. Unexpected events like loud concerts, sports and festivals make working here difficult. So always make a backup plan before you go to one.

Public transportation spots

Pros
If you take the train or bus, public transportation spots provide a productive place to work. In Chicago, I worked at Union Station before going to networking events. In San Francisco, I’d work near BART stations because you’ll find coffee shops nearby. Also, for those with a monthly pass here’s something to try. Hop on a random bus and work on your tablet while you commute around the city. By doing this, you’ll get to know your city pretty well. And discover which buses get you to your destination faster and which to avoid.

Cons
Wi-Fi’s a hit or miss. Some public transportation stations offer them for free while others don’t. So it’s better to bring a hotspot. It’s also sometimes difficult to find seating because of the amount of people here. To avoid crowds work during the quiet hours of the day when people aren’t commuting to their jobs and homes. You must watch your electronics as well because of theft. I’ve seen people steal phones on the bus, so I avoid those routes and never sit by the door. Still, working on public transportation works well as a workspace most of the time. And it allows you to travel to other workspace spots you wouldn’t consider otherwise.

Museum

Pros
Like art, science and history? Consider going to a museum to work. These large public spaces offer free Wi-Fi, ample seating and cafes inside. Looking at historic artwork gives you inspiration while you work to create something unique on your own too.

Cons
The membership cost. To go to a museum frequently, you’ll need a yearly membership. However, it usually not expensive. Somewhere between $30 or more on average. Some museums even offer free admission all the time. Like the Chicago Cultural Center. So you might not need to pay for anything. Other concerns? Large crowds. Depending on the time of year museums get pretty crowded and very loud. So bring some noise canceling headphones with you to block out distractions.

Even more workspaces exist like gyms, movie theaters, botanic gardens and more. But based on my experience these spots offer some of the most useful workspaces. So, try these spots out and see if you notice a difference in your work productivity. If not put on your explorer hat and try somewhere else until you find your perfect workspace. Thanks for reading.

 

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Finding your perfect workspace away from home( part one)

Workspace

Working from home feels great and with advances in technology, it’s easier than ever. But if you’re unemployed spending all your time at home makes it tough to stay motivated. If that’s the case for you here’s some workspace ideas to boost your productivity. Before we get started, let’s look at the equipment you need. And the characteristics of a great work environment.

EQUIPMENT YOU NEED

MacBook Air or computer with all day battery– You won’t always find an outlet.

Food- Helps you stay energized. Bring it with you or buy it somewhere.

Good bag– For carrying all your gear, extra clothes, etc.

Gum/ hygiene stuff– Essential if you want to tidy up before networking.

Wireless hot spot(optional)- Great if you want to work anywhere and rather not use Wi-Fi.

Bottle or mug– Needed for water, coffee or tea to sip while you work.

Noise canceling headphones– A life saver if your work environment is too loud.

Notepad or app– To track which hours, days and locations where you’re most productive.

Good shoes– If you’re doing a lot of walking, the right pair of shoes make all the difference.

CHARACTERISTICS OF A PERFECT WORKSPACE

The below requirements make working away from home easier. But not every venue you go to meets these criteria. That’s okay. I often work at different places daily based on my workload. So feel free to change where you go each day to stay productive.

Easy access to restrooms

Abundant seating choices

Reliable Wi-Fi

Good hours

Somewhere to eat or nearby

Not too loud or visually distracting

Access to water

Inexpensive

Short commute

Able to take phone calls

Now that you’ve got your checklist here’s some places to work away from home.

The Library

Pros

I’ve praised the library before for its excellent job resources, but it’s also a great workspace. And the private rooms, free Wi-Fi, and the library staff’s helpful advice make it easy to work here. Best of all it’s almost always quiet. So, if you need somewhere to focus a library works great.

Cons

Unfortunately, not all libraries contain the best working environment. Since people use them every day, they get overcrowded fast and finding a place to sit gets difficult. Also, the library sometimes attracts the wrong crowd. Like homeless people and kids who aren’t supervised by their parents.

The most frustrating thing? Bathroom locations. Usually, libraries put their most productive spots on higher floors and the bathrooms on the lower level. So anytime you leave your workplace you’ll often find someone took your spot when you come back. It’s difficult to take phone calls here because of the quiet rule and eating here isn’t an option either. Finally, learn to memorize the library hours to avoid frustration. Some libraries don’t open until noon or later. And if you’re most productive in the morning, you might want to work somewhere else. However, some libraries don’t contain any of these problems. So if your local one isn’t working try another.

Cafes/restaurants/bars

Pros

A great cafe, restaurant or bar and an excellent beverage make for a fun venue to get work done. These locations offer free Wi-Fi and easy access to bathrooms. And sometimes feature better seating than almost any public space. So it’s often more appealing to work here than other places. Research also shows that the natural background sound of these spots improve people’s productivity. Lastly, It’s easier to take phone calls here and the hours aren’t too limited like libraries.

Cons 

The price. If you’re working from one every day, those three dollars coffees add up fast. You’ll likely spend more too if you use these locations as a full workday spot. Depending on where you go the Wi-Fi’s lacking, and sometimes you’re limited to two hours. Like many Starbucks enforce. The environment’s often visually distracting and loud too. Especially if the kitchen staff uses blenders and other noisy equipment. So definitely bring some noise canceling headphones and listen to music to stay productive.

Hotel

Pros

Did you know most hotels offer free Wi-Fi in their lobby even if you’re not a guest? I discovered this little secret while visiting the San Francisco Hilton Hotel in Union Square for a convention. When I need a change of work environment, and a cafe or library won’t cut it, I go to a hotel. As a bonus hotels usually partner with Starbucks, so you’re always properly caffeinated. The lounge chairs along with the great desks mean you almost always have somewhere to sit. And if you’re a night owl, it’s great option since most hotels stay open 24 hours.

Cons

Since you’re not a guest, the hotel staff possibly won’t like that you’re working here. So, buying a coffee or tea at the hotel Starbucks and not overstaying your visit isn’t a bad idea. Other concerns? Hotels frequently hold conventions. Which sometimes means when you go to the place it’s too loud and hard to find seating. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Wi-Fi isn’t always safe. Since people travel all over the world and come to a hotel, you’ll never know who’s watching your Wi-Fi.

Mall/department stores/ grocery stores

Pros

The mall, Target, Whole Foods and other public big brand stores all offer great workstations. Since their common in almost every area finding them isn’t a problem and commuting to them isn’t hard. Each venue offers plenty of seating, food and bathrooms within easy reach too.

Cons

It gets pretty crowded here and as a result, your ideal seat sometimes isn’t available. To offset this make sure to go at the right times. Like before lunch and dinner times. Avoid it on weekends too since these locations do their biggest sales then. Sometimes the wi-fi isn’t strong in these places either. Which makes getting work done difficult because of a slow connection. Still, working from these locations offers many benefits.

College Campus

Pros

Just because you don’t go to school anymore doesn’t mean you can’t head to a college campus to get some work done. The union, library, outdoors and college campus buildings make for a nice change of pace. An empty classroom works great too, and it’s quiet like a library. College campuses also welcome famous guest speakers, classes, and events open to the public. Making it a good place to network as well.

Cons

College campus wi-fi only works for students and staff. To offset this problem bring a Wi-Fi hot spot or work without internet. However, some colleges do partner with popular brands like McDonalds and Starbucks, which do offer free Wi-Fi.

Working at home isn’t bad, but it’s often fun to change up your routine. Try out some of these places and see if you notice a difference in your work productivity. Don’t see your favorite workspace? Please leave your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for part 2.

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